My baby is 15 today. I am not old enough to have a 15 year old. I am not sure how I blinked that much. I am not ready to let go of him needing his Mama. I am not sure how to loosen the white knuckle grip I have on the stage of parenting that I can see coming to an end. I am certainly not looking forward to the speed at which the next few years will fly. I am not at all prepared for his Launch and yet its target is in sight. I’ve been really emotional about Coleman’s birthday this year. He’s 15; it’s not really a milestone of any sort. Doesn’t come with any real “rights of passage”. Doesn’t evoke some new freedom. So it seems a bit odd that 15 would hit my in the face, and heart, the way it has.
I do realize that “Just don’t die.” likely seems a terrible title for a blog post written in honor of a kid’s birthday. It was that or “I got you, Mooms.” “Just don’t die.”, however, is a statement that has been uttered, in some fashion, to and about Coleman for almost 15 years and has morphed from a desperate plea to total sarcasm over those same 15 years.
Short version: on Christmas Eve in 2004, I went to bed to catch an hour or so of sleep before C’a next feeding. Newborns are exhausting – add to it C having to be taken via C-Section because at 36 weeks he measured 42 weeks and my “4’10’ & never been over 100 lbs until I got pregnant” body wasn’t bringing what turned out to be a 9lbs 2oz monster size human into the world by natural means. Oh, and J was 17 months old. And there’s the little detail that BiPolar meds and pregnancy/breastfeeding don’t play well in the sandbox so I wasn’t exactly of sound mind. Mama was tired a lot. Two kids under two, a 6 inch incision in my gut and a really unstable brain. “Mama was tired a lot” is an understatement. So when My Fave woke me up that night, I believe the words that came out of my mouth were, “Good God – he just ate!” The reply was, “C’s burning up. Where’s the thermometer?” The reading came back at 104.7°; by the time we got to the ER, it was 107°. Three spinal taps later, we were told C had bacterial meningitis and would be placed in isolation in the NICU to start an aggressive cocktail of antibiotics. The diagnosis and course of treatment were followed with a statement of caution, “If he makes it, we will have no way of knowing the damage to his brain – he may very well never walk or talk; only time will tell.” How’s that for “Baby’s First Christmas”? Four weeks of treatment, in the NICU and at home with a picc line, wiped the illness out. 10 weeks old and C had already given us enough of an adventure. He wasn’t done. (Still isn’t.)
A few months later, we discovered his left lung was only partially developed. “He May outgrow it; if he doesn’t by the time he turns six, we’ll have to go in to remove the undeveloped portion so his lung has a chance to fully develop.” He spent nearly six years on steroids, breathing treatments that took place multiple times a day, regular and increasing doses of antibiotics because a simple cold almost always became pneumonia so we learned to be aggressive early. C slept with us for almost four years because the movement monitor in his bed would sound its alarm so frequently because he’d stop breathing in his sleep and therefore be lying more still than he should. So he slept with us.
Not so much a “short version” but that’s the best I could do. Minus the annoying discovery that the illnesses and copious amounts of medications somehow resulted in most of his vaccinations being only slightly effective, C’s defied every single caution we were given. So if the anti-vaxxers could just vaccinate their kids so kids like mine, and others who don’t vaccinate well, I’d have little worry about C’s health.
“Just don’t die.” for a good chunk of C’s early years were a plea. To keep breathing and fighting. To keep pushing to defy the doctors who had caution after caution about what sort of life he might face. It was a prayer and sobbing hope. Over the past 8 or so years, it’s become almost a joke.
The kid has an Emergency Room frequent flyer card. How in the heck someone hasn’t had us investigated by Child Services is beyond me. Stitches, near brain-eating eye infections, broken bones, surgeries to remove marble-sized lymph nodes, flesh eaten by the lining of a cast – the kid is a mess. And none of these have come from just a casual living of life – C lives bigger than any of us would like him to. “Just don’t die.” isn’t a somber plea for life – it’s a shake of the head send-off because the kid we repeatedly told he wasn’t going to die, lives life like he never will.
He’s spent 15 years proving those doctors wrong. He’s played sport after sport, finally finding his spot in golf and basketball. He will try almost anything once. He lives big and loud and hilarious. There has not been a single teacher who within a week of the school year hasn’t said, “I love that kid. He’s hilarious and obnoxious and a handful but I love that kid!” Recently more than one teacher has said, “He’s such a little s$!t but God, I love him!” And he’s itching to get to the next stage of Launch while a whole bunch of us watch with bated breath.
When J started playing high school golf and his coach started to get know C a bit, it didn’t take long for him to realize just how different the brothers and future teammates were. When it came time for J to get his temps, his coach said to me, “You won’t have to worry about J driving, will you? You’ll send him off with, ‘Have fun and be safe.’ When C gets behind the wheel the send-off will be, ‘Just don’t die.'” And full circle those three little words came.
Happy Birthday, C! You’re exhausting in a hundred great ways and a few not so great ones. You make me smile every day, even when I am so mad at you I could scream. Life is such an adventure for you and it’s so fun to watch. Boring you will never be. Charm will never elude you. “I got this.” is your anthem. I am so crazy proud of your fight and your heart and your fearlessness. You’re a total jerk-face teenager and have done enough in your short high school career to already be grounded for life, but you can negotiate your way out of almost anything and you share your Mama’s love for UK, so we’re good. “This is my world and I let you live in it.” is our funny way of saying the world is in your hands and you have no intention of missing any part of it!
I could go on and on about the kid who will make My Fave and I empty-nesters in just a few years. My greatest tribute to him would be this: “You have spent your entire life showing doctors who said ‘If he makes it…’ eat their words. I might be your Mama but you inspire me on the days when my fight is bigger than I think I can survive. Keep being your larger than life self – the world needs people who can get stuff done but don’t need to be so serious doing it. Love you, Cheeto – jerk-face and all!”
Oh and, please, Just. Don’t. Die.♥